Plenty has already been written about a place where temples are built-in the mountainside, Yamadera, but what else can you do around town? After a bit of shopping and indulging in the famous soba, some visitors make the short trek to the Matsuo Basho Memorial Hall Museum, or the adjacent western paintings museum. At this stage you are probably waiting for the once an hour train back to Sendai or just want to go somewhere to relax without paying money. Welcome to the Yamagata Retro Hall!
This place is right in front of you as you exit the station, but surprisingly few people visit. This is probably because it still looks like and is marked "Yamadera Hotel" in Japanese. Another sign, but off to the side, says this place is the former Yamadera Hotel but now the Yamadera Retro Hall. It also says there is a free museum and art sections, and rest area with tea (again in Japanese). They sold me at free rest area and tea.
Constructed in 1751 (over 50 years after Basho's death), the 24 room hotel hosted visitors seeing the sights and completing religious pilgrimages. The tourism boom would reach full swing in the 1920s and 1930s when a train station opened in the center of nearby Yamagata city and then a few years later right just behind the Yamadera Hotel. Some quick construction changes were necessary to welcome the new visitors. Particularly, the entrance of the hotel was changed to the back of the hotel (now the front) to greet visitors flooding in from the new station. I wonder, over the 75 years since the construction change, how many visitors have been missing the partial but still remaining garden hidden in back. Step inside for a view and a history lesson.
Remove your shoes and step inside as the friendly staff welcome with a smile and multi-lingual pamphlets. You'll find several displays around Basho and his journeys, but the exhibits are only in Japanese. And although offer something of interest, you'll find enough of Basho at the Basho Memorial Hall. I found walking through the hotel and feeling its history and viewing the old architecture the main draw downstairs. Upstairs is a different story.
A huge former dining hall wows you with its size. Lining the stretching tables are detailed pen drawings of various scenes of the hotel produced by Yamagata artist Yuki Taisuke. They are very detailed and each one is so different that a quick view of all 120 around the hotel are worth it to find a favorite. Also in the main hall are some tables with free tea. It is really the best spot to relax as few people know about it and the view of the garden and of Yamadera hotel can not be matched. The autumn colors are a special treat!
You can't stay overnight in the former hotel, but do check-in to enhance your Yamadera adventure.
After exiting Yamadera Station, walk straight about two minutes until the T-intersection. You can go right or left, but the building is right in front of you.
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Justin Velgus (ジャスティン ベルガス) is a long-term resident and promoter in the Tohoku region. He has been a content producer for JapanTravel.com since 2012 and was the Miyagi Prefecture Regional Partner 2013-2015. Justin’s over 300 published travel and culture articles come from a background of studying in Akita, teaching English in Miyagi through the JET Program, and working for the government in Fukushima. He lives in the gyutan capital of the world, Sendai. Justin is an expert in local culture and history. He was the first foreign volunteer at Sendai City Museum and regularly advises the local volunteer guide group GOZAIN , which he is a veteran member, on guiding techniques and hidden locations in the city even locals don't know about. In his free time he enjoys delivering original walking tours, such as his Dark Sendai Tour (ghost tour) or Kokubuncho Mystery Tour (redlight district tour). Justin is also a Certified Sake Professional.